The Crypto Wars: Interpreting the Privacy versus National Security Debate from a Standards Perspective
The Crypto Wars have emerged as an enduring policy stalemate between law enforcement and technology companies in the U.S for well over two decades. The battle for the control over encryption technology that has seen the two parties bitterly divided has been christened as the “crypto wars”. This debate lies at the heart of the privacy versus national security debate in the U.S. While law enforcement and intelligence agencies have demanded access into encrypted communications in the interest of national security, the technology community has advocated for strong encryption to secure people’s privacy rights. The National Security Agency’s attempts at dictating communication encryption throughout the 1990s came to be regarded as Crypto Wars 1.0. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s complaints over “going dark” in 2011 which erupted in a public legal battle with Apple Inc. in 2016 is widely regarded as the second iteration of the same war or Crypto Wars 2.0.As of 2017, this impasse has shown little signs of subsiding. Relatively few studies have studied the FBI vs. Apple controversy or the Crypto Wars as a standards issue. This thesis proffers a novel perspective by interpreting the Crypto Wars as a standards war and analyzing it through the framework of organizational field theory. Adopting a qualitative textual analysis method, it maps both the crypto wars along the same continuum as a contest to gain dominance over the encryption field by establishing winning standards. Through this framework the paper offers policy recommendations for a way forward in the future.
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Memorandum for Michael Vatis, Deputy Director, Executive Office for National Security, on Standards for Searches Under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, from Walter Dellinger, Assistant Attorney General (Feb. 14, 1995). Dellinger, Walter E. (U.S. Dep't of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, 1995-02-14)